World of Wonder: Dancing Frogs -The Toast

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns for The Butter can be found here.

It must be summertime, full of outdoor dance parties and cookouts, because I just cannot get enough of dancing animals. But there was some exciting news this past spring out of Kerala, in southern India (where my dad’s side of the family is from), and I’ve been tracking this discovery carefully because I knew I wanted to share it with you all the minute enough scientists confirmed it: fourteen (that’s right, FOURTEEN!) new frogs were discovered from the genus Micrixalus, and herpetologists are calling them all “dancing frogs”:


This “dancing” is called foot-flagging, and only the male frogs exhibit this behavior—the larger the frog, the more frequent the “dance.” It’s also used as a stand back, this lady is spoken for-kinda sign, which is needed on the jungle’s dance floor where males often outnumber the females 100 to 1.

These dancing frogs are about the size of a golf ball and are super-sensitive to rainfall patterns and stream levels because of their delicate requirements for breeding. After giving a sort of piggy-back ride to the wee little male dancing frogs, the female likes to lay her eggs in a stream where the water levels just barely cover the rockbeds. Too much water, and the dancing frogs will just get swept away when they try to lay eggs. They won’t even touch a stream bed if it’s too dry.

So herpetologists’ celebrations for discovering so many new frogs was short-lived, as these frogs are already classified as endangered due to recent erratic monsoon patterns in the shola forests (cooler temperatures, full of streams) of this usually lush and green area of India. Record temperatures have been drying out the dancing frogs’ habitat, so scientists have just recently petitioned the government to protect the relatively small area where these new frogs have been found from deforestation and encroaching pollution. Many herpetologists fear “unnamed extinctions”—meaning that there might be even more kinds of dancing frogs that become extinct before they’ve even been discovered.

I know that’s a sobering thought—I bet when you first started reading this, you were all:

But! We have to remember that in a time of so many extinctions, to find fourteen (14!) new kinds of frogs is a small ray of hope — since frogs are, of course, the great bio-indicators of this planet, meaning that their health is indicative of the health of the biosphere itself. So that’s a little bit of promising news to come out of one of the most gorgeous places on earth. For now, I’m so tickled that we now know these little ones exist, foot-flagging on a shade-cooled rock, tapping their way together towards a rush of pebble, water, wind.

[Image via Wikimedia]

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Lucky Fish. She is a professor of English and teaches poetry and environmental lit at a small college in Western New York. She is obsessed with peacocks, jellyfish, and school supplies. Follow her on Twitter: @aimeenez.

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